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DANGLER v. YORKTOWN CENT. SCHOOLS

August 14, 1991

LISA DANGLER, ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR SON, JUSTIN DANGLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
YORKTOWN CENTRAL SCHOOLS, JOHN V. DOHERTY, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, MICHAEL FRISCHMAN, PRINCIPAL, YORKTOWN HIGH SCHOOL, SUED IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goettel, District Judge:

OPINION

This case presents the question of whether a student should have been admitted to the National Honor Society chapter of his high school. As federal rights protected by both the first and the fourteenth amendment have allegedly been violated, this court must reluctantly project its opinion into a dispute distinctly within the realm of local educational authorities.

BACKGROUND

There is no question that Justin Dangler is a bright, capable teenager. In three years at Yorktown High School, he has maintained a near "A" average. Additionally, he participates in a number of extracurricular activities including the school newspaper, the student senate, local political campaigns, and Future Business Leaders of America, along with working at part-time jobs. The record contains glowing testimonials to Justin's capabilities.

As a high school junior, Justin was eligible to be considered for membership in the Yorktown High School chapter of the National Honor Society ("NHS"). To be so eligible, a student must be a junior or senior and have maintained at least a 3.5 out of a possible 4.0 average. The student's application must then be approved by a majority of the five member faculty council appointed annually by the high school principal to evaluate candidates. In addition scholarship, "[s]election . . . is based on outstanding character, leadership, and service." Constitution of the Yorktown High School National Honor Society, Article VII, § 1 (emphasis in original). In addition, the Bylaws of the Yorktown Chapter state that "[t]he National Honor Society exemplifies the qualities of honor and character" and specifically state that a student is ineligible if he or she does not exhibit exemplary character, has been caught cheating or flagrantly violating school rules. These guidelines make clear that character should be heavily weighted in the assessment of a student by the faculty council.

Justin, possessing a 3.93 average, applied for membership in the NHS. His application was denied although no reason was initially provided. The rejection letter, written by the advisor to the NHS, advised him that he would eligible for consideration again in the Fall of 1991 and urged that he "strive to attain a high quality of character, leadership and service." He was invited to contact the advisor with any questions. Letter from Kathy Belardo to Justin Dangler (March 25, 1991). Later correspondence informed his parents that Justin could confer with the advisor to identify areas of deficiency in order to work toward improvement so that he could successfully pass the next application screening.

After reviewing his son's files, Mr. Dangler wrote back to Doherty requesting that ten disciplinary records be removed from his son's school files because they were erroneous. These records included six cutting class referrals, one referral for calling two school secretaries "assholes", and referrals for leaving class inappropriately. The high school principal wrote to Mr. Dangler indicating that the six cutting referrals were removed from Justin's file, leaving four disciplinary referrals still in his record.

Mr. Dangler was still dissatisfied. He wrote to Doherty again, asking that Justin's admission to the NHS be facilitated because the existence of the six cutting referrals was a substantial part of the record on which Justin's application was considered. No response was apparently made.

Lisa Dangler, Justin's mother, then filed this suit on behalf of her son seeking, among other things, to enjoin the defendants from excluding him from the NHS. The complaint alleges that Justin was deprived of property without due process of law in retaliation for his and his father's exercise of their first amendment rights.

Before us now is plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction to compel the school authorities to admit Justin into the NHS.

DISCUSSION

A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy not to be routinely granted. Patton v. Dole, 806 F.2d 24, 28 (2d Cir. 1986). The general standard for granting such relief in this circuit is well settled: to justify the issuance of an injunction, the plaintiff must show "(a) irreparable harm and (b) either (1) likelihood of success on the merits or (2) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly ...


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